English Literature: An Inspector Calls

Charecters, Plot, Etc..

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Chapter 1 & 2

1.The Birling family are holding a dinner party to celebrate the engagement of Sheila to Gerald Croft, the son and heir of Mr Birling's rival in business.
Although there are a few signs that not everything is perfect (Mr Birling is a bit too anxious to impress Gerald, Eric seems rather nervous and Sheila playfully rebukes Gerald for not having come near her the previous summer) there is a happy, light-hearted atmosphere.

2. When the ladies leave the men to their port, Mr Birling has a 'man to man' chat with Gerald and Eric, advising them that a man needs to look after himself and his own family and not worry about the wider community.
As he is telling them this, the door bell rings. Inspector Goole enters, an impressive, serious man whom none of them has heard of.

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Chapter 3

When Sheila enters, the Inspector reveals that he would also like to question her about Eva Smith's death. He tells Sheila that Eva's next job was at a big shop called Milwards, but that she was sacked after a customer complained about her. When she too is shown a photograph of the girl, Sheila is very affected. She admits that it was her fault that Eva was sacked: when Sheila had gone in to try on a dress that didn't suit her, she had caught Eva smirking to another shop assistant - in her anger, Sheila had told the manager that if Eva wasn't fired, Mrs Birling would close their account. Sheila is hugely guilty and feels responsible for Eva's death.

When the Inspector then states that Eva, in despair, changed her name to Daisy Renton, Gerald Croft's involuntary reaction reveals that he knew her too. When the act ends, the audience is poised to find out what part Gerald had to play in her death.

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Chapter 4

After some tense words between Sheila and Gerald, an attempt by Mrs Birling to usher the Inspector away and the revelation that Eric Birling is a hardened drinker, Gerald admits that he too had known Daisy Renton. He had met her at the local Variety Theatre - known to be the haunt of prostitutes - and had 'rescued' her from the unwelcome attentions of Alderman Meggarty, a local dignitary. When he found out that Daisy was almost penniless, Gerald let her stay in the flat of a friend of his and she became his mistress. He ended the affair when he had to go away on business, giving her some money to see her through for a few months.

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Chapter 5

Sheila is glad to have heard this confession from her fiancé, although Mrs Birling is scandalised. Once Gerald has left to go for a walk and get over the news of Daisy's death, Inspector Goole shows a photograph to Mrs Birling. She grudgingly admits that she had seen the girl two weeks previously, when the girl - now pregnant - had come to ask for financial assistance from the Brumley Women's Charity Organisation.

Mrs Birling was the chairwoman and persuaded the committee to turn down the girl's appeal on the grounds that she had the impudence to call herself Mrs Birling and because she believed that the father of the child should bear the responsibility. She says the girl refused to let the father of the child support her because she believed money he had given her previously to be stolen, yet Mrs Birling is proud of refusing the girl aid. She claims that she did her duty and sees no reason at all why she should take any blame for the girl's death.

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Chapter 6 & 7

6.Right at the end of the scene, as Mrs Birling denounces the father of the child and claims he needs to be made an example of, Sheila (and the audience) realise that Eric is involved. When Eric comes into the room, the act ends.

7.There is a bitter meeting between Eric and his parents, which the Inspector interrupts so that he can question Eric. Eric tells the story of his own involvement with the girl. He had met her in the same theatre bar as Gerald, had got drunk and had accompanied her back to her lodgings. He almost turned violent when she didn't let him in, so she relented and they made love. When he met her two weeks later they slept together again and soon afterwards she discovered that she was pregnant. She did not want to marry Eric because she knew he didn't love her, but she did accept gifts of money from him until she realised it was stolen. Eric admits that he had taken about £50 from Mr Birling's office - at which Mr and Mrs Birling are furious.

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Chapter 8 & 9

8. All the Birlings now know they played a part in the girl's death. Mr and Mrs Birling are concerned about covering up their involvement, whereas Sheila and Eric are more aware of the personal tragedy and feel guilty. The Inspector leaves, after delivering a strong message about how we all should be responsible for each other

9. After he has left, and the family has begun to consider the consequences of what has been revealed, they gradually begin to wonder about the Inspector. Was he real? When Gerald returns from his walk he explains that he also had suspicions about the Inspector and had found out that there is no Inspector Goole on the force, which Birling confirms with a phone call.

They gradually realise that perhaps the Inspector conned them - he could have showed each person a different photograph - and when they telephone the infirmary, they realise that there hasn't been a suicide case for months. Birling is delighted, assuming they are now all off the hook, while Sheila and Eric maintain that nothing has changed - each of them still committed the acts that the Inspector had accused them of, even if they did turn out to be against five different girls.

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Chapter 10 & Mr Burling

Then the telephone rings. Mr Birling answers it, and after hanging up tells the family that it was the police on the line: an inspector is on his way to ask questions about the suicide of a young girl...

He is described at the start as a "heavy-looking, rather portentous man in his middle fifties but rather provincial in his speech."
He has worked his way up in the world and is proud of his achievements. He boasts about having been Mayor and tries (and fails) to impress the Inspector with his local standing and his influential friends.

However, he is aware of people who are his social superiors, which is why he shows off about the port to Gerald, "it's exactly the same port your father gets." He is proud that he is likely to be knighted, as that would move him even higher in social circles.

He claims the party "is one of the happiest nights of my life." This is not only because Sheila will be happy, but because a merger with Crofts Limited will be good for his business.
He is optimistic for the future and confident that there will not be a war. As the audience knows there will be a war, we begin to doubt Mr Birling's judgement. (If he is wrong about the war, what else will he be wrong about?)

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Mr Burling

He is extremely selfish:
He wants to protect himself and his family. He believes that socialist ideas that stress the importance of the community are "nonsense" and that "a man has to make his own way."  
He wants to protect Birling and Co. He cannot see that he did anything wrong when he fired Eva Smith - he was just looking after his business interests.
He wants to protect his reputation. As the Inspector's investigations continue, his selfishness gets the better of him: he is worried about how the press will view the story in Act II, and accuses Sheila of disloyalty at the start of Act III.
He wants to hide the fact that Eric stole money: "I've got to cover this up as soon as I can."

At the end of the play, he knows he has lost the chance of his knighthood, his reputation in Brumley and the chance of Birling and Co. merging with their rivals. Yet he hasn't learnt the lesson of the play: he is unable to admit his responsibility for his part in Eva's death

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Mrs Burling

She is described at the start as "about fifty, a rather cold woman and her husband's social superior."
She is a snob, very aware of the differences between social classes. She is irritated when Mr Birling makes the social gaffe of praising the cook in front of Gerald and later is very dismissive of Eva, saying "Girls of that class."

She has the least respect for the Inspector of all the characters. She tries - unsuccessfully - to intimidate him and force him to leave, then lies to him when she claims that she does not recognise the photograph that he shows her.

She sees Sheila and Eric still as "children" and speaks patronisingly to them.
She tries to deny things that she doesn't want to believe: Eric's drinking, Gerald's affair with Eva, and the fact that a working class girl would refuse money even if it was stolen, claiming "She was giving herself ridiculous airs."She admits she was "prejudiced" against the girl who applied to her committee for help and saw it as her "duty" to refuse to help her. Her narrow sense of morality dictates that the father of a child should be responsible for its welfare, regardless of circumstances.

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Mrs Burling & Sheila

She admits she was "prejudiced" against the girl who applied to her committee for help and saw it as her "duty" to refuse to help her. Her narrow sense of morality dictates that the father of a child should be responsible for its welfare, regardless of circumstances.

She is described at the start as "a pretty girl in her early twenties, very pleased with life and rather excited." Even though she seems very playful at the opening, we know that she has had suspicions about Gerald when she mentions "last summer, when you never came near me."

Although she has probably never in her life before considered the conditions of the workers, she shows her compassion immediately she hears of her father's treatment of Eva Smith: "But these girls aren't cheap labour - they're people." Already, she is starting to change. She is horrified by her own part in Eva's story. She feels full of guilt for her jealous actions and blames herself as "really responsible."She is very perceptive: she realises that Gerald knew Daisy Renton from his reaction, the moment the Inspector mentioned her name. At the end of Act II, she is the first to realise Eric's part in the story.

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Significantly, she is the first to wonder who the Inspector really is, saying to him, 'wonderingly', "I don't understand about you." She warns the others "he's giving us the rope - so that we'll hang ourselves" (Act II) and, near the end, is the first to consider whether the Inspector may not be real.

She is curious. She genuinely wants to know about Gerald's part in the story. It's interesting that she is not angry with him when she hears about the affair: she says that she respects his honesty. She is becoming more mature.
She is angry with her parents in Act 3 for trying to "pretend that nothing much has happened." Sheila says "It frightens me the way you talk:" she cannot understand how they cannot have learnt from the evening in the same way that she has. She is seeing her parents in a new, unfavourable light.

At the end of the play, Sheila is much wiser. She can now judge her parents and Gerald from a new perspective, but the greatest change has been in herself: her social conscience has been awakened and she is aware of her responsibilites. The Sheila who had a girl dismissed from her job for a trivial reason has vanished forever.

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He is described at the start as "in his early twenties, not quite at ease, half shy, half assertive."
Eric seems embarrassed and awkward right from the start. The fist mention of him in the script is "Eric suddenly guffaws," and then he is unable to explain his laughter, as if he is nervous about something. (It is not until the final act that we realise this must be because of his having stolen some money.)

There is another awkward moment when Gerald, Birling and Eric are chatting about women's love of clothes before the Inspector arrives. It soon becomes clear to us (although it takes his parents longer) that he is a hardened drinker. Gerald admits, "I have gathered that he does drink pretty hard."

When he hears how his father sacked Eva Smith, he supports the worker's cause, like Sheila. "Why shouldn't they try for higher wages?"

He feels guilt and frustration with himself over his relationship with the girl. He cries, "Oh - my God! - how stupid it all is!" as he tells his story. He is horrified that his thoughtless actions had such consequences.

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He feels guilt and frustration with himself over his relationship with the girl. He cries, "Oh - my God! - how stupid it all is!" as he tells his story. He is horrified that his thoughtless actions had such consequences.

He had some innate sense of responsibility, though, because although he got a woman pregnant, he was concerned enough to give her money. He was obviously less worried about stealing (or 'borrowing' from his father's office) than he was about the girl's future. So, was Eric, initially, the most socially aware member of the Birling family?

He is appalled by his parents' inability to admit their own responsibility. He tells them forcefully, "I'm ashamed of you." When Birling tries to threaten him in Act III, Eric is aggressive in return: "I don't give a damn now."

At the end of the play, like Sheila, he is fully aware of his social responsibility. He is not interested in his parents' efforts to cover everything up: as far as he is concerned, the important thing is that a girl is dead. "We did her in all right."

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He is described as "an attractive chap about thirty, rather too manly to be a dandy but very much the easy well-bred man-about-town."

He is an aristocrat - the son of Lord and Lady Croft. We realise that they are not over-impressed by Gerald's engagement to Sheila because they declined the invitation to the dinner.

He is not as willing as Sheila to admit his part in the girl's death to the Inspector and initially pretends that he never knew her. Is he a bit like Mr Birling, wanting to protect his own interests?

He did have some genuine feeling for Daisy Renton, however: he is very moved when he hears of her death. He tells Inspector Goole that he arranged for her to live in his friend's flat "because I was sorry for her;" she became his mistress because "She was young and pretty and warm-hearted - and intensely grateful.

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Despite this, in Act 3 he tries to come up with as much evidence as possible to prove that the Inspector is a fake - because that would get him off the hook. It is Gerald who confirms that the local force has no officer by the name of Goole, he who realises it may not have been the same girl and he who finds out from the infirmary that there has not been a suicide case in months. He seems to throw his energies into "protecting" himself rather than "changing" himself (unlike Sheila).

At the end of the play, he has not changed. He has not gained a new sense of social responsibility, which is why Sheila (who has) is unsure whether to take back the engagement ring.

Inspector Goole He is described on his entrance as creating "an impression of massiveness, solidity and purposefulness. He is a man in his fifties, dressed in a plain darkish suit. He speaks carefully, weightily, and has a disconcerting habit of looking hard at the person he addresses before actually speaking.

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Inspector Goole

He works very systematically; he likes to deal with "one person and one line of enquiry at a time." His method is to confront a suspect with a piece of information and then make them talk - or, as Sheila puts it, "he's giving us the rope - so that we'll hang ourselves."He is a figure of authority. He deals with each member of the family very firmly and several times we see him "massively taking charge as disputes erupt between them." He is not impressed when he hears about Mr Birling's influential friends and he cuts through Mrs Birling's obstructiveness. He seems to know and understand an extraordinary amount:

He knows the history of Eva Smith and the Birlings' involvement in it, even though she died only hours ago. Sheila tells Gerald, "Of course he knows."  
He knows things are going to happen - He says "I'm waiting... To do my duty" just before Eric's return, as if he expected Eric to reappear at exactly that moment
He is obviously in a great hurry towards the end of the play: he stresses "I haven't much time." Does he know that the real inspector is shortly going to arrive?
His final speech is like a sermon or a politician's. He leaves the family with the message "We are responsible for each other" and warns them of the "fire and blood and anguish" that will result if they do not pay attention to what he has taught them.

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'Public men, Mr. Birling, have responsibilities as well as privileges.' – Aimed at Mr Birling
'Go and look for the father of the child. It's his responsibility. – Mrs Burling, Blaming everyone else
I hadn’t set eyes on the girl for at least six months. I don’t come into this suicide business.’ Gerald
‘I understand a lot of things now I didn’t understand before.’ Sheila
‘I agree with Sheila. It frightens me too.’ Eric upset at the lack of remorse from parents

‘One Eva Smith has gone - but there are millions and millions and millions of Eva Smiths and John Smiths still left with us, with their lives, their hopes and fears, their suffering and chance of happiness, all intertwined with our lives, and what we think and say and do. We don’t live alone. We are members of one body. We are responsible for each other.’

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cool notes. 

it's mr birling* mind


Thank you for this! Such help!

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